Jesus Army Life - The unmistakable '?'

I want to express something. I'm probably going to get it all wrong, but there is this person I'm totally excited about. I'm excited because this person is in the habit of staying completely mysterious and yet showing up in my life in the most memorable ways. And I want to search them out, I want to track him down and I want my heart to be his heart. I want to know his will and let his future be my possibility. I'm astounded by his ability to recreate new magic in people's lives, to bring good out of bad, the impossible out of the mundane, faith out of cynicism. He's invaded history countless times and he's so close to my own heart. It's not like I even know him and yet he is present in my soul, and I'm excited by the chase, my life is a spirit-blown adventure. And more and more, his supernatural goodness breaks in to my cold hard reality - bringing an impact to the lives of those I know, whether they believe him or not. He is the unmistakable question mark in everyone's' lives and I want him to be the defining mark in mine.


Jesus Army Life - At the monastery

I popped in on a nun in a monastery the other day, as you do. She was part of the Carmelite order. A couple of friends and I were passing by so we thought we'd just knock on the door. The friars were away, probably off climbing trees somewhere, so she took us into their lounge and we sat down for a chat.

I'm not sure I'll ever forget the event; it was not so much incredible as simply affirming. Here was this little aged lady happily talking about life and her passion for the church to three young men she'd never met before.

The experience seemed to put so much into perspective. She told us about the history of the order (legend has it they existed before the birth of the Christian church as a group of hermits seeking God, but were converted at Pentecost, but they are more well known for St Theresa for Avila). She recounted her own walk with God, having become a nun at 25 and now, 56 years later, not regretting it one bit. She received our questions with tenderness, godly reverence and not a little excitement. There was so much more I could have asked of this woman who'd spent her whole life in prayer, I wanted to learn as much as possible from her.

Perhaps the most encouraging part was to realise that the values which we champion as the Jesus Army, principles which seem to cast us as radicals among other mainstream churches (shared-community, the choice of celibacy and a lifelong covenant commitment) were the same fundamentals reflected in the nun's commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience. These things which we struggle to explain as a 40 years young church were practices enshrined by centuries of tradition in their monastic order. And it didn't stop there: further features like church run businesses, maintaining a healthy distance between the society of men and women, having some live in community and some in their own place, the leadership of men and the ministry of women -- these were characteristics found in their organisation too. Even our characteristic busyness was reflected as this 81 year old woman suddenly realised she was late and with a firm handshake, bid us goodbye and rushed off to vespers.

Right now I', glad to be back at White Stone house. It's Sunday afternoon, we've had six families here for dinner and the many children have been playing in the garden. As friends we have chatted and laughed together -- it's been a blissful afternoon. But I'm left with fond thoughts of the sister we met. I'm recommending to all my friends that if you want to do something extraordinary before the year out, if you've found yourself feeling flat and wondering what life is about, go and spend an hour or even a few days with a nun or monk at a monastery -- you'll find it a life changing experience.


Jesus Army Life - Birthdays

It was my birthday this week. Not that I'm looking for blessings from well wishers, but birthdays in a shared-community are shall we say... interesting.

It's a great opportunity to appreciate the person concerned (in this case me - hooray!) We all gather together and the honorary individual is given a huge cake plus a home-made card signed by everyone. The great thing about this is that the card also includes thoughts, appreciations, encouraging words and perhaps even exhortations. There's usually just one main gift, though many contribute a few smaller ones, usually treats in the form of food. As the cake is brought in a very embarrassing song is sung (it's always the same 'we love you' song, it's awful!) There's a lot of whooping and clapping and finally some prayer with prophecy for the year ahead.

This year (and I'm kind of saying this here so I can remember), the words for me were about a pearl (beauty from suffering) a sugar cube dissolving (individual self denial sweetening the whole) and a city of lights (vision for Worcester coming into fruition).

The important thing is that the individual is honoured, and I know I always come out of these situations feeling loved and favoured.

I can think of some pretty special birthdays we've celebrated lately, like the time we shipped off to the coast for a midnight swim and beach breakfast, or another time where we marked a 21st birthday with the brothers cooking sausages over a bonfire, just singing and seeking God together.

I guess birthdays for us aren't supposed to be self-indulgent so it's useful to cut against the 'my important day' approach and the go-out-and-get-wasted tradition. Hopefully it's used as a time to value the individual as a family and encourage them in the life they have chosen. For me, I try to use it as a time to review how I'm doing spiritually, a time to give the life I've been given back to the One who made me in the first place.


Jesus Army Life - The best medicine

Photo by shindz of flickr.comThere's a lot of laughter tonight. I'm not sure if it's to cover the sadness of an old friend leaving to study or whether it's just new friends drawing close together.

When Paul listed the spiritual gifts I think he should have included laughter. Those who love to laugh or who make others laugh are certainly gifts in themselves. I have friends for whom it would seem there is no cure for their malaise except laughter. But then I can also think of others for whom the medicine is love, and for others faith. Is laughter therefore hope?

That's the kind of spiritual conclusion which would satisfy me tonight

Photo by shindz of flickr.com.


Jesus Army Life - Being broken

Community-life is a certifiably amazing experience. We've just had one person say farewell, when another decides to stay. It brings a lot of life to the house when new people who are with you are discovering the magic of sharing their complete life with others they only slightly know.

But what happens when you've been round the block several times already? And what about when you're actually worn out from doing too much and no longer feel that magic about the place? How amazing can it be then?

I reckon that everyone who lives in a community-house will go through a time of brokenness at some point, for many it will be several times over. (How else can you deal with pouring of you life and heart for someone and it still not working out? - Stay with me here, there's a happy ending...) It all comes out the refusal-to-hide-from-life experience that shared-community is. You choose to love, it doesn't work out how you planned; you have a choice to either run away, or somehow learn to keep going. Somehow you have to find the will to love again, to forgive, and to hope again. It's not all that easy, I speak from experience.

One of the most beautiful things for me is realising that there is a fresh place to store my hope where it will never be crushed. I would write more on this, but all I know right now is that Jesus has promised to return, and in His promise is the assurance of a greater day to which all hope points. Heaven is the home of hope and all that we do now, all our courage and love, is spent in the knowledge that one day it will be worth it. Crucially, knowing that I can trust God with the most precious part of me I feel able to give to others.

Without the will to be available for other people and their needs, community-living can be a nightmare because you don't feel you have enough energy for yourself, let alone anyone else. But if you can stick it out until you find the wherewithal to give again it once more becomes a beautiful, wonder-filled, laughter-lined experience. You can enjoy other people because there is the buoyancy within you to do so.

John-Paul Sartre said hell is other people. I beg to differ. I think 'other people' is where you begin to discover heaven.